Look up Xavier Henry at eliteprospects.com and his page looks just like thousands of other young hockey players.
Bantam. Prep school. BCHL. A college commitment to Vermont. Standard stuff.
But Henry’s journey is far more than what you see on that page. His is a story of financial hardship, a mother’s love and a young man driven to succeed.
From the moment the Torontonian laced up skates at five years old, he loved being on the ice.
“At first it was just public skating, doing laps around the ice, and I was having a blast even with that,” he said. “But my older brother Tyler played up until he was about 15. I grew up watching him play hockey and I really wanted to play. So my Mom bought a whole set of equipment like they used to sell at Canadian Tire, and soon enough I was on the ice learning and loving the game.”
Henry played as much as he could with the blissful ignorance of youth, happy on the ice and not worried about how he got there.
But his mom worried.
It’s said that hockey has become a rich man’s sport, and for Oberding, a single mother of five children, keeping her son on the ice was a problem.
It all adds up, and for families struggling to make ends meet it can be too much. But Oberding always found a way, and she tried hard to never let on to her son that it was a problem.
“I was a little aware of our financial state, but she never brought up just how much she was struggling,” Henry said. “God bless her soul, she didn’t want me to worry about that stuff. She just wanted me to do something I loved and she’d take all that stress for me.”
You’ve seen those TV commercials where parents drop off a troupe of hockey players in a minvan?
Jennifer didn’t drive, but that was just another problem needing a solution. She taught Henry how to get around Toronto on the subway. He’d load up his massive hockey bag, find his way to the station and hop on. Other kids had door-to-door drop-off service and he didn’t, but that wasn’t going to stop him.
In his mind, nothing was going to stop him.
“I feel that taught me that when you really love something, you’ll do anything for it,” Henry said. “It wasn’t a short ride. There were a couple bus rides in there too, and I’m sure there were people looking at me like I was a crazy person carrying my hockey bag onto a train.”
Henry rose from the house ranks to single-A when was eight or nine and then AA soon after. That’s when finances entered his consciousness. Playing higher level hockey carries more costs. A business stepped up to sponsor him in AA, but when he jumped to AAA at 11 years old that financial support disappeared.
For the first time, Jennifer had to sit him down and together they took a close look at their situation.
“It was definitely difficult for my mom, I know it was,” Henry said. “But we were able to find a way through it and I was able to keep playing the game I love.”
It was the father of a foe who came forward to help. Jeremy McIntosh supported Henry through bantam AAA and then on to prep school at St. Andrews.
“I played against his son, and when he heard my mom was struggling to pay for the AAA fees he stepped up, both financially and as a mentor,” Henry said. “He gave me everything I needed to succeed in the sport, and even now he’s still a mentor to me. He’s been a blessing in my life and I’ll never take him and his family for granted.”
Henry helped himself going to St. Andrews with a scholarship that partially covered expenses, and McIntosh covered the rest.
After two years there, he took the next step when he came to Chilliwack.
“I happened to play at a tournament in Buffalo, New York, and (Chilliwack) coach (Brian) Maloney was there scouting,” Henry said. “We spoke after a game and honestly, between the time that conversation ended and I hopped on the bus to go back to the hotel, I’d already texted him saying, ‘I’m in.’”
Henry has been with the Chiefs for the last three seasons. Though serious knee injuries (posterior cruciate ligament tear and medial collateral ligament sprain, both in 2020-21) have gotten in the way at times, he has turned himself into one of the best defensive defencemen in the BCHL.
“Last year taught me that I really love the game because no normal person would go through what I went through and still get back on the ice and want to achieve more,” Henry said. “I’ve had tons of bumps in the road in my hockey career and I’m still alive.”
The 20-year-old has an NCAA scholarship to Vermont. He’ll join the Catamounts next fall, moving one step closer to his ultimate dream of playing pro hockey.
Years ago he promised his mom that if he ever realized that dream, his first pro contract would go to her.
“I’m holding to that, and that’s what I’m working for,” he said.
There’s no way to fully pay back all that she’s done for him, but he’ll never stop trying.
“I feel that every day,” Henry said. “I’ll never repay her for her sacrifices. She’s my biggest motivation, and I want to make her proud always.”